Sounds Like Yoda, Thomas Merton Does

Sounds Like Yoda, Thomas Merton Does December 4, 2015


While it could be argued that anyone will sound like Yoda if you rearrange their sentences in the characteristic way, Tim Suttle still seems to be onto something when he singles out these quotes as having a Yoda-like quality to them:

“The mark of spiritual insecurity, anxiety is.” 

“The most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice, peace demands.”

“The path to faith reason is; when reason can say no more, takes over faith does.”

“More about ourselves than about Him, our idea of God tells us” 

“Done in the classrooms, the least of learning is ” 

“The absolute extreme of self-love, despair is .”

“The door to the full inner life of the Church, faith is.”

“Entirely too much privacy, to be unknown to God is.” 

“To find ourselves and loose ourselves at the same time, art enables us .” 

“A spiritual stability too deep for violence, the peace produced by grace is. Unshakeable, it is ” 

Click through for the originals – or just rearrange them yourselves.

What do you think? Can other quotes from Merton, or quotes from other mystics, fit equally well or better? Does this tell us anything useful either about Yoda or about Merton?

See also Suttle’s post explaining why he is confident that J. J. Abrams is not going to botch the new Star Wars movies.

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  • arcseconds

    I wonder whether what is going on here is that the Star Wars people have been very good at constructing a generic sage-figure that people can project whatever they personally think wisdom is onto.

    I believe there’s some of this suggestive outlines but a largely blank canvas is the case with the Force.

    It’s clearly got strong spiritual overtones, and can be read as being a fundamentally spiritual entity which is said to have immense power and there are indications it has some kind of agency. The Jedi are supposed to have trust in it, and at points they allow it to direct their lives. So theists, especially less traditional ones, can read it as being God.

    On the other hand, it’s clearly not a person that you could, say, talk to; and the Jedi don’t call it God or worship it with badly-sung naff hymns and archaic rituals or engage in unconstrained speculation about its nature. So it’s enough removed from traditional notions of God and the Christian religion to seem exactly the sort of thing the large numbers of people who are ‘not religious but spiritual’ and ‘don’t believe in the Christian God, but think there could be something out there… some kind of energy’ would be happy to accept (and, indeed, may already believe in, or hope for).

    The lack of overt religious tropes also makes it acceptable to atheists. The more spiritual sounding aspects of it can be ignored as window-dressing. The Force can be seen primarily as a source of psychic powers, which atheists generally seem quite happy to accept in fiction, even if they are antipathetic towards such claims in real life. Also, Jedi training is enough like martial arts training to be accepted as being non-kooky enough for comfort.

    Also, it’s given a materialistic basis in the midichlorians. I know no-one who’s happy with this account, but perhaps some materialists actually do like it, who can say?

    I think Yoda and the older Obi-wan Kenobi are like this, too. They have all the tropes of wise masters, and they say things that we expect wise masters say. But once you exclude things that anyone thoughtful with some life experience behind them could say, plus things that could be gleaned from an introduction to Buddhism — plus perhaps a Western pop psychology / self-help book about self-actualisation — there’s very little left. Which allows us to fill in the blanks.

    So perhaps you or Suttle are inclined to read Yoda more as a mystic than anything else (and I’m not denying they’ve done things to make him seem like one), which means you’re primed to see similarities.

    For myself, most of these do not sound very much like Yoda at all. For a start, they’re too wordy for the most part. Also, Yoda never talks about spirituality or (obviously) the Church, grace, or faith: these are very clearly Christian terms. And I believe they represent Christian concerns that are largely absent from Jedi talk. One could perhaps see the Jedi Order as a parallel to the Church, but to me it seem strange to imagine Yoda referring to ‘the inner life of the Jedi Order. There is the ‘Trust the Force, Luke’ thing, but that’s Obi-wan, not Yoda. What I would say about these sorts of things is that the Jedi seem to have a very practical understanding of them: the Force exists, and you’re supposed to trust it, this seems reasonably concrete and quite different from the nebulous and all-encompassing notion with many different interpretations and accounts that ‘faith’ seems to be in Christianity. Art also seems to me to be something more surely a concern of a middle-class 20th-century european moving in artistic and literary circles than a Jedi master: I could more easily imagine Yoda thinking art a distraction than anything else.

    (Actually, I’d like to see a Star Wars movie where a young rebellious Jedi gets into art, and Yoda ends up coming around to the idea, but only after a long period of time…)

    These ones do sound yoda-like:

    The most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice, peace demand.

    Done in the classrooms, the least of learning is

    The last being an excellent example of something that’s almost a commonplace, the only thing being that it’s expressed pithily.

    I could almost see him saying the ‘dispair’ thing or the ‘anxiety’ thing, but they’d have to be reworded.

    The rest don’t seem like Yoda at all to me.

    (The statement about dispair, by the way, I think is unhelpful and potentially dangerous. I suppose there are dispairing people who might be seen in this category — people who wallow in self-pity — but there are an awful lot of people who are either actually in dire straits, who have recently experienced actual loss, or who are clinically depressed. For these people, saying it’s just selfish self-obsession is wrong, insensitive, hurtful, and blaming the victim. It would be even worse if they actually believed you.)